Rohen's tips for students balancing startups and studies
Rohen is a full-time student of the BSc Economics and Finance University of London programme at the Singapore Institute of Management. A highly driven and inquisitive individual, he believes in having a positive outlook on learning and never giving up.
Rohen reinforced his knowledge in trading equities, commodities, and fixed income by learning on the job from trading internships and taking part in trading competitions organized by AmplifyME and Citadel. Armed with experience and the motivation to push further, Rohen co-founded a startup quantitative hedge fund company – Skyblue Capital – together with his friend Vignesh Kumaravel, a full-time computer engineering and business analytics student at the National University of Singapore. He shares with us some of his thoughts and experiences on creating a company while pursuing a full-time undergraduate programme.
What were your interests that led you to choose the Economics and Finance programme at UOL?
The Economics and Finance programme is a challenging and highly quantitative programme that equipped me with the necessary skills to take on the competitive world of finance. Economics would equip me with the tools and thought process of how businesses and consumers interact on a micro and macro scale. It sheds light on human behaviour and how to model their irrationality to predict the market. Finance would teach me the necessary skills to break down a business fundamentally to look at its cash flows and model for future revenues, in addition to a rigorous insight into the mathematics involved in the movement of the market.
How did the idea for SkyBlue Capital come about?
While I was in junior college, I met my co-founder, Vignesh, at a Model UN competition. Back then, we had no idea what we wanted in our career. Interestingly, it was over a catch-up session at Starbucks - truly a place for ideas to be born in Singapore; where Vignesh pulled out a quaint-looking notebook stuffed with paper. It was filled with start-up ideas, and we sieved through it in search for potential.
With my background in economics and finance and having to intern at a commodity trading firm, I brought up the topic of trading. To my surprise, Vignesh was also dabbling in trading. I suggested that since we have the expertise and experience, why not just start our own fund? It would be challenging, but I think if we have the right people and effort, we can pull it off. We have not looked back since.
What challenges did you face in setting up your company and how did you overcome them?
The struggles we faced were a combination of mathematics, statistics, dealing with clients, and balancing academics. We tried to apply quantitative concepts from the modules we learned in university to our real-world problems. The modules in Quantitative Finance and Machine Learning at UOL were helpful in solving challenges at the fund.
Dealing with clients and learning about sales was a new experience. Learning how to upsell and convince someone to invest in your company was one of the biggest challenges we encountered. We had to break down complex financial concepts and pitch them to clients, which proved to be an arduous task. Building trust was another, where we set up multiple meetings with clients to build an investor-client relationship. All of which took a great deal of time and effort. We are delighted to say that it has mostly paid off.
Running a company as a student is a balancing act. We started by setting short-term, mid-term, and long-term goals. Weekly targets allow for higher visibility on the progress of tasks at hand. Ticking multiple boxes every week, it lets us inch closer to our macro goals.
Do you have any mentors or people that you look to for inspiration?
Rajesh from Avani Resources, a commodities trading firm where I interned, is a mentor who I look up to. He would always say take calculated risks and always be rigorous in your analysis. Take risks because you are young and have no commitments, and if you fail, fail forward.
I also look to books and notable figures in the industry for inspiration. For finance, it would be Ray Dalio and Nassim Taleb, authors of "Principles" and "The Black Swan" respectively, whose books I strongly recommend reading. For leadership, Bob Iger, CEO of Disney, as he has one of the best management philosophies in the business.
Any advice for your fellow peers?
1) Find activities/people that help to improve yourself
My favourite past-time activity is going to the gym alone to think and decompress while working out. It trains me to be disciplined and consistent. It is a value that I believe gives me the edge in highly competitive jobs, such as investment banking and trading.
I also found a small circle of friends whom I can share interests and have meaningful discussions. Hanging around with like-minded people will set you up for great things by helping each other improve and succeed. In doing so, that practice will spill over into your own habits and way of life.
2) Always study ahead
Do not wait to follow the pace of lectures. Content is readily available on the internet for almost every major. You can watch lectures on YouTube or read research papers from journals to deepen your understanding of that module. Get ahead, cross out the learning objectives in the subject guide and dive into past year papers. It would immediately set you apart from 90% of the student population.
3) Read. And read a lot!
Reading is beneficial in influencing your ability to write well by adding structure to your thoughts. It helps in making you more articulate in both writing and speaking. Reading has also enabled me to gain knowledge across a wide range of topics, allowing me to converse with people from different backgrounds. Another book recommendation I have is titled "Make it Stick." They discuss strategies to study that have been tried and tested through multiple peer-reviewed studies, which have been helpful in my career. In all aspects, reading has helped me tremendously when networking with others.
4) Learn to Network
Networking is the most underrated skill in business. It improves your emotional intelligence and makes you aware of the sensitivities of human behaviour. You can train yourself to be likeable. It will be helpful in highly competitive industries where doing a good "job" is not the entire job. To be liked and respected matters equally or even more. Relationship building is everything because many decisions are made based on trust.
Make LinkedIn your best friend. As much as possible, talk to as many people in the line of work you are interested in. You will learn about unspoken "rules", industry standards, and the job role in a realistic perspective.
5) Internships and CV
Intern like your life depended on it. Right from the get-go of year 1, start applying for jobs. Aim to complete around 5-8 internships during your three years in university. Start from tier 3 companies or start-ups where the barrier of entry is low and move your way up to more established firms. If done right, you will be able to learn more about your job and yourself. Although not easy and riddled with sacrifices, it is always worth it in the long run.